Former CIA director and Defense Secretary Robert Gates had sharp words about President Barack Obama's leadership skills, saying the nation's leader has nobody to push back on him while he has "centralized power" in the White House.
"The best quote about the a quality of a president was a statement from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who said that JFK had a second-rate intellect but a first rate temperament," Gates, who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, told MSNBC's "Morning Joe"
That would mean a leader who is "willing and confident enough to surround themselves with people who they thought are smarter, he said, and that president would need to combine that quality with instincts and judgment, said Gates.
"One question that nobody has asked is who are the kind of people you would appoint, who would you look to for guidance," Gates, the author of the new book "A Passion for Leadership,"
And when it comes to Obama, who has been criticized for thinking he was the smartest person in the room, Gates believes he has "centralized power and operational activities in the White House to a degree that is unparalleled."
"The president is quoted as saying one time to his staff that he could 'do every one of your jobs better than you can,'" said Gates. "I don't see the kind of strong people around the president who will push back on him. I give him credit, I pushed back on him a lot, he never shut me down, never told me to be quiet, never refused to see me. I don't see people like that around him now."
When asked for key strengths in recent presidencies, Gates said that Obama is willing to make tough decisions; George W. Bush was courageous in taking on serious problems, such as with the 9/11 attacks, and George H.W. Bush had the unifying ability to bring together large coalitions, but he doesn't think any of the wide slate of candidates running for the presidency has those skills.
A leader, he said, needs to be able to look at problems in a different way, giving the issues with the Veterans Administration as an example, saying that if pressure would be put on the VA by threatening to allow veterans to visit outside doctors, it could lead to a response.
He also criticized, without naming names, candidates who say they would either "carpet bomb" the Islamic State, as Sen. Ted Cruz
has threatened, or otherwise eliminate them when they first hit office.
"First of all they don't know what they're talking about," said Gates, as doing that would be contrary with the way the United States wages war and would show a "total disregard for civilians."
"This is part of the concern I have with the campaign," said Gates, a solutions that are being offered are "so simplistic, they are at odds with the way the world works."
The presidents who Gates believes best exemplify leadership include George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, but he would not say who he would like to see run now, including Secretary of State John Kerry: "I don't think so."
"I will tell you this," he said. "I do think that politics is a profession, and I think if you don't have any experience in how the government works, if you've never been in government, your ability to make government work is going to be significantly reduced. It's different than business. It's different than surgery. It's different than anything else."
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